Meet the Artist: Doug Ikeler, Sony Pictures Imageworks


Hey Doug,

I realise you worked in the effects department, but maybe you could shed some light on an element of animated features I find very interesting right now:

I’ve been animating for about 6 years, and I’m used to working with very loose blocking and working in a more straight ahead manner… which leads me to my question; I would like to know if the animators were generally required to conformed to a specific method of animating their shots ? … to be specific, was it common for shots to be blocked in heavily, with progressive levels of detail that would be signed off in stages, or were shots approved less rigidly on an initial key pose blocking pass, that would allow more options for animators that like to work straight ahead ?


Hi Doug,

I am amzed by your detailed 3D works. they are great indeed. well, i have only been learning maya for a year and now i am working on a scene modelling project in my school. So hopefully you could answer some doubts i have in doing my project .

I would like to know what is the best way to model sofas , curtains and other furnitures… as i seem have litte idea in doing this.

would be thankful if you can help me in any way you can… thanks!


Hi Doug!

Just would like to know:

What do you expect from the future of animated features?
What do you expect from your own future (maybe with Sony or wherever you want)? Any idea?

Thank you in advance for your answers.


Nothing to say, very good.


no question, just want to say I really admire your work Doug and I can`t wait to see Open Season


Fantastic fur, i like it very much.

Doug, what you think about the new programs of computer graphics, like 3ds max9, maya 8, lightwave 10, what you think about the new features of these new programs?



Well I d like to ask about pipeline in Imageworks. I mean what kind of sw platform do you use inclusive misc apps like maya etc.

Another question is regarding characters. Do you use any muscle system for them (maybe a bit silly question - maybe its already standard in every single feature film.) is it custom inhouse technology or not?

Thank you very much for your time Doug.



Thank you for your replies. I had a feeling you used gobos (it was the first thing that crossed my mind but I wasn’t quite sure). I am please to hear that gobos are actually being used in animation. I haven’t heard anything about gobos in 3D films and it’s nice to know that easy tricks that are pretty render friendly like this are yielding excellent results.

Another question for you.

If there where one tool in 3d or otherwise that would benefit you or you feel would benefit an animation team or vfx team. What would that tool be? Or/and if none come to mind, is there a specific set of tools that you feel you cannot do without?


Hi Doug!

I was wondering if you could tell me what sort of hardware you guys run down there? Specifically displays, is it true studios like yourselfs still use CRTs? Which I can understand. It would be good to know what the pros run at work and at home!



living_for_cg asks:

a question i have is that i have always had problem to choose a kind of style for an animation project,it is not that hard for a still 3d image,but when comes to animation i usually loose the main style in production, what majors should i know or do for having the same style in any part of an animation?

I am only guessing, but it sounds like you need to find a style that suits the way you work.

I know it’s difficult as a student trying to make a short that requires you to wear all the hats of production. I think for the benefit of your portfolio you should tailor the requirements of you project to only use those parts of production you feel comfortable with and enjoy. You will always end up spending the most amount of time on the thing that is the hardest for you to do and you probably wont be happy with it anyway.

Otherwise developing an artistic style to your artwork and animation really is the result repetitive projects (personal or professional). Courses you could be taking…Life Drawing, Composition, and any Animation classes focusing on timing.

Bug_Eyed_Earl asked: (nice avatar Earl)

I see Maxon is using a lot of Open Season imagery on their site these days. What of theirs did you use in your pipeline? What else did you use for the unique look?

How was your team broken up into sub-teams (The intro says you had 250 people, how many were animators, lighting, modelling, riggers, etc).

We used the Bodypaint portion of Maxon for all of 3D texture paining.

The basic production structure for Open Season is as follows: (numbers are from memory)

Layout-- 15 artists (10 rough layout and 5 final layout)

Animation —4 teams each led by supervising animator, each team is about 15 people.

Character Rigging and Support – 10 riggers and 5 support artists

Hair – 16 artists

Cloth – 7 artists

Effects – 18 artists

Texture Painter/Surfacers – 8 artists

Matte Painters – 5 artists

Shader writers – 2

Software Developers – 5

Lighting – 4 Teams supervised by CG Supes. Each team had approx 20 artists.

+++ various pipeline and support technicians.

cesarmontero asked:

  1.  How would you describe your work enviroment?(a pic would be great)!
  2.   How balanced is life at your work (health/work/personal time)?

We are situated near the Columbia and Culver Studios lots, so it is definitely a movie making atmosphere. Our actual 5 buildings are grouped together and each has its different emphasis. I am located in the Imageworks main building where most of the digital artists are located. My office is in what we call a Pod. I have the digital producer and most of the production coordinators around me. My office is also a sweatbox. That means that we do approvals with the artists in here. There is a nice large screen on one wall with a 2K projector that is driven by a linux box. The other buildings have the Art department in one, Sony Pictures animation in another, training in another.

How balanced is life at work? Good question. As a VFX that is what I hope to do the most for my team. With proper planning and management of expectations, we should be able to maintain realistic working hours so that everyone’s personal time is just that. It went pretty well on our first project. There was some overtime, but not near as much as we have worked in the past. Personally, I have a family, so it is very important that I don’t miss out on watching my kids grow up. No way that is going to happen. I expect the same for everyone on our production and we work very hard to make that happen.

SteveKey asked:

I’ve noticed there seems to be a lot of animal based cg films being released recently, and I was wondering if, while in production, you took note of what some of these other films were doing and adjusted accordingly, or if you disregarded what other films were doing and just followed through with all of your original thoughts and plans.

We are getting this question a lot lately…go figure.

I have many friends that work at the other studios so I had some sense of what they are working on. But that is really all, just an overview of story and characters. No specifics.

These movies take about 3 years from start to finish. You really cant try and second guess what the other guy is doing. Because it is really hard to try and make a good story alone, you cant be readjusting as you go. 3 years ago we did have an inclination that there were some other animal movies coming out, but beyond that we didn’t know too much.

Strob asked:

I would like to write a bit about the softwares you used for Open Season to create the special effects. And how does a big studio like sony decide to create a new software instead of using an already existing solution. And also please talk to us about the pro and cons of integrating a new software in a pipeline for special fx.

Wow, that really could take a while to do this question justice. I’ll try and give the short answer.

We use Houdini for our Special Effects. We use Renderman with a proprietary lighting interface to render. We use Maya for just about everything else. Sounds easy right?

Nope. The real flexibility to our system comes from in-house plug-ins, scripts and general “glue”. We customize just about every step of the process. The main reason this is done is for reasons like reusability, efficiency, and to achieve the highest level creativity. Every show usually has to take on a new (or new version) software. This can be painful and difficult, but the rewards are usually achieved in the next project. As long as you don’t change too much at once it usually goes well.

LucentDreams asked:

what were some of the logistical considerations in making a 2D stylized film that also had to play in a Stereo format. Seems like quite a challenge already to make a 3D film look more 2D, and then to take that and play it in stereo (3D IMAX DMR).

The conversion to stereo was actually done by another team who specialize in doing this. They were using our data though obviously. Besides the fact that we really never set up the composites to be done in stereo (stereo was an after thought) the main problem was the amount of 2d tricks we were doing in the comp. Roto mattes and extensive filtering made it tough on the guys who were doing the conversion. Honestly though, they kicked butt. They were finaling over a hundred shots a week to get this thing done for IMAX.

Also, did you use any sort of a frontal projected grid deformer to help mold the 3D geometry into the ideal 2D poses?

No, our “Shaper system” used circular cross sections to deform the character pose. It had no sense of screen space. In other words, the animator pushed and pulled the cv’s on the deformer rings (there were about 10 from head to toe) to shape their poses. The rings had about 6 cv’s usually and that was enough to handle all views that’s you may see the character from.

cgnetworks_le asked:
To be a VFX supervisor, the man at the highest ranking in the production, how do you find your balance between the art and technology? Do you consider one important than the another?

Art or Technology?

Yeah, I still don’t know the answer to that question even though I have been asking it for 17 years. As always it comes down to the artist in the seat. Those who are the most successful usually have found just the right balance of both.

And I think you worked your way up from a junior artist to a highly-respected VFX supervisor. So, do you see any change in the way you look at VFX works?

One of the first things you have to come to terms with when you enter supervision is that you are not on the box anymore. It is very easy to feel your worth and contribution when you see the exact pixels you made on the screen. As a supervisor and eventually VFX, I had to find my pride in my team’s work and my worth in what I could do for them to make their work as good as possible.

Also, thesedays, many artists are jumping around VFX for film, cartoon and video game production. What do you think are the challenges, advantages and disadvantages of those coming from different production pipelines? I believe a lot of SonyImage’s artists are there for many years focusing on realistic animation and rendering. Did you have to spend some times with the crew to get used to this cartoony, squash-and-stretch style of animation?

I think jumping around the various CG business’ is fantastic. Everyone should do it, it makes you a more versatile asset. I mean it:wavey:. It did take a while to adapt to the style of our movie, but that is usually the case on most productions I have been on. Every movie is a new beast.

Winner asked:

I’ve been animating for about 6 years, and I’m used to working with very loose blocking and working in a more straight ahead manner… which leads me to my question; I would like to know if the animators were generally required to conformed to a specific method of animating their shots ? … to be specific, was it common for shots to be blocked in heavily, with progressive levels of detail that would be signed off in stages, or were shots approved less rigidly on an initial key pose blocking pass, that would allow more options for animators that like to work straight ahead ?

Our animators worked both ways. It really depended on the performance of the shot and to some extent the individual who was animating. Big performances with large sweeping motion for example, they usually blocked out. The Directors would approve the blocking on shots like this and they may see the shot several times before it went to final animation. Talking head shots could often be animated straight ahead as I saw it.

Drake83 asked:

What do you expect from the future of animated features?
What do you expect from your own future (maybe with Sony or wherever you want)? Any idea?

Well I think we all know that there wont be as many talking animal movies in our future.

That is after the 2 rat movies and the 2 penguin movies come out:D. I do hope that there is a day when a movie like Final Fantasy has a bigger audience. I am not saying whether it was good or not, it just didn’t seem like the public was ready for it.

My next project at Sony is Hotel Transylvania a monster comedy. After that? Who knows? I am pretty sure that I will stay in animation for a while though.


Hi! i cant wait to get to the theater to see this piece, it seems amazing

My question would be about a subject that is not very common to read about in the web:

How do you handle the shading/lighting workflow? how about the surfaces/characters shaders with diferents kind of light moods that still have that continuity in the look-and-feel?

i dont know if my question is a little dumb, but i wanted to know because a had a hardtime myself with that subject lattely when trying to get a specific look that feels the way i want with diferents lights moods

Keep on the explendid work!!

And thanks in advance :slight_smile:


Hello Doug,

I am a beginner CG artist and attempting to make the transfer from military to civilian world. I am currently working towards my Bachelors in CG art and design and will graduate within a year. For someone who would like to start on the right track is there a specific CG software to start out with? I have a choice of 3Ds Max or Maya with my college and I have chosen Maya due to the fact that I would like to get into the film industry. Should I invest in Maxon Cinema 4D or New Tek Lightwave 3D also? I read what you wrote about how it is better to be an “expert” in a field instead of a generalist. Is it the same with software? Thanks for answering our questions here and great job on the movie!!



Hi Doug, Congratulations on your work! I have a simple couple questions:
What Software did you use and why?
How long did the longest scene and frame took to render?
At what resolution did you render the final images?
After having the rendered images are they printed to film or how is that process?

Thank you for taking your time, i love your work keep it up!


it’s really really good

good job


oooo… i like!


hi Doug Ikeler,
i love it! :slight_smile: and thanks to your talk and sharings at Siggraph06. i was there in your talk! amazing! :slight_smile: i love the “shapper” that you all used to define the shapes of the characters! amazing! :slight_smile: cant wait for the show in theater.


hi Doug Ikeler,
First of all I`ve been waiting for this movie since your siggraph trailers caught my eyes.
I wanted to know more about your asset management in general and example of tools.
what did you find working best for this type of a feature what went wrong and how could this part of production be even smoother.



Hi Doug

Great to have you here, you guys did a great job with open season:thumbsup:.

I want to ask you about the hair.

-How do you iluminate the hair? you use image base lighting with HDR images?..

-If you do use HDR image to iluminate the hair can you explain a bit about that and how the hair was render it?

thanks a lot for your time.



Thank you for your time. :slight_smile: I’m just wondering where you went for your education and how long it took to get your full education.



i like most the water…the fur also very nice.cant wait for the open season opening in cinema